Whittier Area Genealogical Society
Whittier Area Genealogical Society

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September 2, 2023 By: Kristina Newcomer
September 2023
We’ve all been there at one time or another.  You know, searching over and over for that one record that will open up the floodgates and solve that genealogical mystery that has haunted us forever.  We’ve tried everything to find our “missing link,” or have we?  According to Mark Cross, there could be many reasons why we cannot find the records we seek.  His talk, “How To Find Records When You Can’t Find Records” was informative, entertaining and brimming with work-arounds to help us in our quest for finding those elusive answers we seek. 
Mark’s humorous tale of searching for one of his Cross ancestors and finding him indexed under the name Craps reminded us why our “reasonably exhaustive” searches can sometimes be just plain exhausting.   This is where we need to expand our thinking about overcoming the errors in indexing and lost, unavailable, or non-existent records.  Instead of narrowing our search parameters, we need to look to other repositories, indexes, books, libraries and archives.  What if we still can’t find the record we need?   Indirect records or DNA can be helpful.
According to the Board for Certification of Genealogists, “accuracy is fundamental to genealogical research.  Without it, a family history would be fiction.”  To avoid writing a fictional account or falling into the recurring brick wall backwater, Mark strongly recommended several important steps that we need to incorporate into our research.  The first question we need to ask ourselves is, “How do I know my research is sound?”  By applying the Genealogical Proof Standard we will be guaranteed that what we find and record will be sound.
One of Mark’s key recommendations was to keep a research log.  This important tool can organize and track our research work, prevent needless repetition, or overlooking possible resources, and focus our efforts on our specific research plan.  A good research log helps to show the quality of the research, lists what has and has not been found, organizes documents, and reduces duplication of effort.  Always a good thing.  In addition to a research log, he recommended keeping a timeline of the ancestor in question so as to avoid missing possible avenues of research. 
I, for one, am convinced that it’s time for me to practice what Mark preached.  I have downloaded the free research log from FamilySearch.org and will combine it with a timeline when I hit my next brick wall ancestor.  How about you?  Let us know if you found the proof you sought.
August 1, 2023 By: Kristina Newcomer
August 2023
How many of us have read through old records on land transfers or instructions in wills where parcels are described in precise detail, including minutiae about neighbors, land formations, and distances, only to become cross-eyed from information overload?  I know that in the past I would frequently begin skimming over sections that listed names, funny angles, and detailed descriptions of land parcels; not any more.  Now I know that all those details could contain rich resources that I had overlooked. 
According to Rebecca Whitman Koford, land research is not for the faint of heart.  As a matter of fact, she told us that land research “isn’t fun . . . it’s tedious.  But don’t give up, it will help to contextualize our ancestors’ lives, and it’s worth it!”  To encourage us to tackle this subject, she told us the one thing that would grab any genealogist’s attention – land research can help solve those pesky brick walls where there are no other records available.  Words to soothe a frustrated researcher for sure.
Before launching into land and deed records, we need to determine where our quest should begin.  Are we looking for information in State-Land States, Federal-Land States, or Military Bounty Land?  Each of these have different shapes and measurement systems, repositories, and unique histories.  Rebecca recommended becoming familiar with the history of the state we are investigating so we won’t waste time looking in the wrong place for the information we’re seeking. 
As the old saying goes, the devil is in the details. Careful attention to the details contained within land records may very well be the answer to long-standing mysteries in our family stories.  Don’t forget that the “N” in FAN club stands for neighbor, and knowing who your ancestors’ neighbors were may well be the key to solving a longstanding puzzle.  As we all know, genealogical research is not a “one and done” proposition, but a slow and methodical process. Adding land research as one more tool in our kit will only enhance and support our results. 
Rebecca reminded us that land ownership was our ancestors’ greatest asset.  When other avenues of research fail to locate the clues we need to answer our genealogical questions, the rich leads found in deed and land records may be our greatest asset.
June 29, 2023 By: Kristina Newcomer
July 2023
Many of us have had an experience like that of our June speaker, Geraldine Knatz.  We started researching an ancestor many years ago – before the digital age – writing away for information and visiting libraries and Family History Centers for clues, only to hit that proverbial brick wall.  Time moves along, we focus our attention on other avenues of research and shelve the original mystery.  Eventually, we refocus our efforts on that one burning question, “How do I find that elusive ancestor that challenged me so long ago?”
In Geraldine’s case, finding her elusive ancestor from forty years ago became her goal during the pandemic restrictions.  First, she established her research question, “Who were the parents of her McCormack great-grandfather who immigrated from Ireland to New York in 1881?”  She began by reviewing the evidence she had already acquired over the years with fresh eyes.  Her list of resources included family letters that contained important clues that she had overlooked previously, as well as state and federal censuses, and naturalization and cemetery records.  To these she added recently digitized baptism, birth, death, military, and marriage records.  She was getting closer to her goal.
Geraldine’s next step was to begin investigating various Irish resources such as Griffith’s Valuation, viewing maps of Ireland, and visiting websites like RootsIreland.ie, IrishGenealogy.ie, and Ask About Ireland. Using maps and Irish church records, she began to narrow down the location where her ancestors used to live.  Her newest weapon in her search was  Blaine Bettinger’s shared centimorgan tool in DNA Painter.  She called it the “icing on the cake.”
Although much of her evidence was indirect, she was able to back up her theory about the origins of her McCormack ancestors using all the tools at her disposal.  The key to  her successful search was looking closer for elusive clues in the existing documentation she had collected over the years and combining those with new evidence available today.  Her research may never be completely finished because there will always be a new resource to find, but she is up for the challenge!
May 25, 2023 By: Kristina Newcomer
June 2023
As evidenced by the number of attendees at our May meeting, it can be inferred that we all were quite interested in Julie Huffman’s DNA-adjacent topic, The Basics of GEDmatchJulie explained that GEDmatch is a free website with a huge database that we can use to find new autosomal DNA (atDNA) matches.  She encouraged us to view GEDmatch as one more valuable asset in our genealogical research toolkit. 
One of the biggest advantages to using GEDmatch is that we can identify atDNA matches who have tested with different companies, such as 23andMe, Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage, to name a fewGEDmatch is an equal opportunity DNA uploader, so no matter where you had your autosomal DNA tested, once you upload your results you become part of an enormous pool of possibilities.  And, unlike many other websites, another advantage to using GEDmatch is that you can easily contact your matches because their emails are attached to their entries.
GEDmatch allows members to manage up to five accounts for free; beyond that you must enroll in Tier 1 for $15 a month.  However, before you dip your toe into the atDNA pool, Julie recommended viewing the videos offered at GEDmatch prior to beginning your adventure in centimorgan searching.  The videos, organized according to your level of experience at https://www.gedmatch.com/education/, will be very useful in getting started.
Additionally, having a printed copy of a shared centimorgan chart at hand will be helpful in identifying into which category your familial match belongs.  When you begin using GEDmatch, Julie recommends using Blaine Bettinger’s chart at:  https://thegeneticgenealogist.com/wpcontent/uploads/2020/03/Shared-cM-Project-Relationship-Chart.png.
Identifying whether someone is a first cousin twice removed or a second cousin once removed is made easier with Blaine’s chart.
GEDmatch is a “do it yourself” website that can be a valuable resource when searching for that certain person who may be the answer to your brick wall questions.  Let us know if GEDmatch has successfully helped you to fill in some blanks on your family tree or connected you to someone you never suspected was related to you.  We want to hear about your results.
Happy Birthday WAGS!
May 3, 2023 By: Kristina Newcomer
May 2023
Lisa Medina’s approach to genealogical research fit perfectly with the idea of how to formulate a successful family history project, especially when the focus is on producing an ancestral narrative.  The subtitle of her presentation, “The Story of an American Woman,” aptly describes the goal of most genealogists, to not only record statistical facts and figures, but to write the story of their lives by adding context and humanity to the individuals and families we discover on our family trees.
Following her format, Lisa guided us through her research project as she looked for answers about the life of her great-great grandmother, Julia Hunt.  Was everything she had been told about Julia life the truth or just family mythology?  Lisa’s first step in answering her questions about Julia was to define the specific areas that needed clarifying beyond the basics of who, when, where, and what.  She said that by rephrasing and broadening the focus of the inquiry to include why, how, and does the evidence fit and support the research case, the results would confirm or disprove prior research.
The next step was to develop a research plan to avoid overlooking valuable information when becoming distracted by unrelated – but attractive – rabbit-holes of misdirection. After defining our goals, determine what resources will most likely contain the information that we seek.  Beyond the usual federal and state census records, check property records, city directories, will, probate, and tax records, newspapers and maps. Follow where the clues lead us, and create a timeline to include important historical events that may have affected the life of the subject.  All of these valuable resources will aid us in staying on course and filling in the details of an ancestor’s life.
Lisa’s emphasized that the key to a successful research project is to analyze our findings with a keen eye to determine whether or not the evidence answers our original research questions.  Check to make sure you have interpreted the information correctly and that if it conflicts with previous data, explain how you justified your conclusions.  Finally, put everything you have found into a narrative and transform your initial research question from basic facts and figures into a family history to pass on to generations in the future.
Lisa Medina’s presentation reminded us that genealogical research doesn’t stop at facts and figures, but transforms us from ‘data crunchers’ into family historians.
April 3, 2023 By: Kristina Newcomer
April 2023
How many times have you searched for a piece of documentary evidence for someone in your family tree and followed the breadcrumbs to more information that you never knew you needed?  According to Kate Townsend’s presentation at our March meeting, that one record can lead you to another, and to another, and to another to help in filling in the blank spaces in the lives of our ancestors.  The key is to “Follow the Records and See Where They Go!”
Kate walked us through the various records that may have additional clues that can be overlooked because we tend to focus on our original goal.  For instance, many passenger lists have more than one page and if we fail to scroll to the final page we could miss vital information that could aid us in locating place of origin, destination, or relatives already in America.  Don’t forget to search for both incoming and outgoing passenger lists, and don’t limit your search to common ports, but widen your search to other locations.  Keep a timeline of your results so you won’t overlook anything.
On census lists, check to see if your ancestor was in process of becoming a citizen or had completed their naturalization process.  These pieces of documentation can lead to new avenues of inquiry, such as original spelling of  names, place of origin, names of witnesses (FAN Club), and the court district in which your ancestor resided.  If possible, order an original copy of the final naturalization documentation to proudly frame in your home!
My favorite sections of Kate’s talk revolved around divorce proceedings, court cases, newspaper articles, death certificates, bankruptcy, and cemetery records.  I would add wills to that list – and I know that makes me sound sort of ghoulish – but these are the records that have helped me the most in researching my ancestors.  Sometimes these documents contain the only lead I can find to solve the mystery of the vanishing ancestor.  I am still searching for the court records in the case of the contested disposition of my third great-grandmother’s estate after she committed suicide by hanging herself in her basement in 1874.  I am anxious to find out the story that is hidden in those court documents.
Kate’s two final admonishments were to FIND THE ORIGINAL because relying on an index  may contain transcribing errors that could lead you in the wrong direction, and GET CREATIVE by digging for non-traditional records such as coroner’s reports and court proceedings.  Thanks Kate, for broadening our horizons genealogy-wise. 
WAGS members, what records have you found beyond the norm?  Let us know about your successes in your ancestor hunt.
March 1, 2023 By: Kristina Newcomer
March 2023
Unless one descends exclusively from indigenous ancestry, it can be assumed that all of those forebears of ours came from somewhere else.  Once those adventurous individuals landed on the eastern shores of America and discovered that there was open land extending to the west, curiosity, necessity, adventure, or other reasons pushed them to migrate into new areas.  Hal Horrocks from the Orange County California Genealogical Society detailed the reasons, methods, and difficulties that our ancestors experienced while moving westward into Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and beyond.
Hal explained that some of the reasons our ancestors moved westward fell into a number of categories: adventure, over-population, religious and political freedom, unrest or discontent, the availability of land offering wealth and power, or just to have a fresh start.  I know that in my family, my Quaker ancestors fled from England to Massachusetts, where they were persecuted by the Puritans.  One branch, the Lippincotts, fled to Rhode Island – a more tolerant location – and then set up permanent residence in New Jersey where they could worship without fear.  A few generations later their descendants were in Indiana and Ohio.  My English Glover ancestors, also Quakers, settled in Pennsylvania, migrated to New Jersey, and over several generations moved to Illinois, Indiana, Kansas and eventually, to California.
After listening to Hal’s talk, I am curious to know how my Lippincott and Glover ancestors transported themselves, their goods, and their livestock to their new homes.   I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to pack up everything you owned, secure your family, including young children, and trek, raft, or wagon over miles and miles of rough land and uncharted water to reach a safe haven.  It can be assumed that many Quaker families moved together, not only for safety from hostile native populations, but also for companionship and communion within their religious family.  Now I need to explore which routes they used to reach their destinations.
Thanks to Hal, I will focus on early maps that show the rivers and trails that facilitated the flow of these brave men and women to find their new homes in their adopted country.
February 2, 2023 By: Kristina Newcomer
February 2023
margin-right: 12px; The headline in the WAGS Newsletter for January asked the question, “Do You Want to Know the Secrets to Better Storytelling?”  Our guest speaker, Bill Cole – the passionate genealogist – delighted us with an enthusiastic presentation about taking the next step in completing our genealogic family histories.  Bill encouraged us to tackle the often overwhelming project of doing something with our research beyond the collection of facts and figures by transforming them into compelling stories.
Why do family history stories matter?  One reason is that writing about our ancestors helps us to understand what shaped their decisions, challenges, successes and how their experiences affected their descendants.  In order to understand who our ancestors were, we need to tell their stories.  If we don’t, their contributions to our lives will fade with memory until they are nothing more than names on a page.
Another reason for writing stories is that events that affected our ancestors in a transformative way are worth telling.  In terms of family history, whatever is felt in the next generation is worth a story.  Not only does family history help us understand ourselves better, it also gives us a connection to our past.  According to Bill, the more stories of the past that we capture, the better.
Genealogy helps us figure out were our ancestors came from, but it doesn’t necessarily make for good storytelling.  You don’t want to become that boring family member who goes on and on about ‘this happened and then that happened’ mode, leaving everyone with a glassy-eyed stare.  Look for information that will grab your reader or listener’s interest.  In any family story, the people will be the most important component so be sure to develop them as multi-faceted, interesting characters. 
Lastly, Bill reminded us that writing is an acquired skill that improves with practice.  He suggested seven writing techniques to help overcome the fear of writing.  Simplified they are: start writing, use visuals/imagery, begin anywhere, use verbs, edit, limit sentences, and paragraph lengths.  I will add one more item to his list, don’t worry about perfection!  Practice, as they say, makes perfect.  So start small, write what you know and “breath more life into your genealogy.”
January 4, 2023 By: Kristina Newcomer
January 2023
December 17th was our second “Show & Tell” society meeting since reorganizing ourselves into a hybrid format.  Despite some sound and video hiccups, we were entertained by members both in-person and online with their various offerings. 
First up was Christine Cohen with a PowerPoint presentation about her Great Great Grandfather “Bobby”.  This branch of her English family had worked in the Cornish coal mines for generations, but her great great grandfather broke the mold and became a London policeman.  His was a true success story.
Cyndy Hartman used PowerPoint to tell us all about her socialite ancestor Madeline (Force) Talmage who married John Jacob Astor IV in 1911.  She was one of the survivors of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912 where her husband lost his life.  Her son, John Jacob Astor VI was born four months later.  Cyndy told us of her poor treatment by the Astor family and her subsequent marriages.  Her story just goes to show you never know who are going to found in your family tree.
The 1950 census was Rick Frohling’s impetus for researching the history of his family’s lives in Illinois.  Realizing that non-genealogists get glassy-eyed when reading data points that are the basics of our research, he decided to expand his findings into a story, incorporating historical references, newspaper articles and ads, even going so far as to research the origins of one of his family’s homes.  He also discovered that he descends from a long line of census enumerators.
Bonnie Morse showed us her wonderful Christmas ornaments made with photographs of her  ancestors in delightful little frames.  She explained that they can be hung from a Christmas tree branch or displayed on a permanent framework.  She also used full sheets of glossy photo paper to write short biographies to accompany the photo of each ancestor, and made sure to write names and dates on the back of the ornaments.  Her thoughtful gifts combine her love of family and genealogy.
Incorporating her love of genealogy and Emily Dickinson, Tracy Winkler who is a member of the Emily Dickinson Society wrote a detailed history of her idol.  Focusing her efforts on this prominent American poet and her background, using Federal and State censuses and following clues to her life, Tracy’s story was printed in the Dickinson Society newsletter.
Gordon Seyffert, who is the director the Immigrant Genealogical Society in Burbank, told us about a patron who came in and requested his aid in identifying the origin of her German ancestor’s hometown.  He walked us through his research methods and the use of Ancestry.com and the vast library at the society to help her trace her uncommon surname.  He also invited us to take advantage of the large German genealogy library available every first and third Saturday at the society office.
It was then my turn to talk about my research into the ancestry of my niece and two nephews through their maternal lines.  I made interesting discoveries about researching Irish surnames and hitting brick walls when it came to finding the Jewish ancestors who fled the Russian Empire to find freedom and success in America.  Along the way I had to learn about the history of the treatment of the Jews and their struggles to survive.  I also discovered one miscreant who changed his ways and a French-German family who have deep ties to Alsace.  My next task is to begin researching the family lines of the mother of my new grandnephew.  My work is never done!
Thank you everyone for your interesting topics.  There is always something new to learn from the stories of others.  I look forward to next year’s “Show & Tell.”

November 29, 2022 By: Kristina Newcomer
December 2022
There isn’t a genealogist who hasn’t found or been stymied by a mysterious gap in their family history knowledge.  It could be caused by missing documentation, incorrect information – such as misspelled names, mislabeled dates or locations – or that unlucky courthouse fire.  Whatever the reason, that frustrating hole in the family tree is not going to resolve itself.  We need to conduct an in-depth analysis of the clues we garner along the way from a variety of sources.
This missing link in a genealogical timeline is what Diane Henriks faced within her own family and by doggedly chasing each and every clue, no matter how miniscule, she was able to successfully fill in those blank spaces.   Following clues may seem obvious, but problems can arise when memories are faulty, family stories have been altered to hide uncomfortable information, or the individuals who may have known the facts have passed away and taken the knowledge with them to the grave.  We just have to cleverly separate fact from fiction.
One of the first things Diane told us was that “there is always some truth in those family stories,” and it is up to us to separate the myths from the facts, no matter how elusive.  Then, use those tidbits of information to focus our research.  Apply the usual research tools; census records, directories, birth, marriage, death, baptismal records, newspapers, photographs, etc.  And keep asking questions until you have squeezed as much information from your source as you possibly can.  Using social media, find individuals who may have useful information, ask lots of questions.  Be relentless.  The more clues you get, the more you can narrow your search parameters.
Once you have narrowed down your findings, Diane suggests that you do a quick descendancy dive into what your research has revealed.  A side-by-side study can help to narrow down your focus, and completing rudimentary family trees on your subjects can help to confirm your results. When you are uncertain about the information that has been passed down from family members, try a “no surname” search on FamilySearch.org to locate the correct family members.
When you confirm that you are on the right trail, be sure to expand your research to include the children and cousins of the mystery ancestor.  By working backward from the various branches of the family, you will be able to solidify your own research without a whiff of doubt.  Remember what Diane Henriks said, “it’s all in the clues, and the proof is in the details!”